In this episode, Jared interviews Robonzo, the host of the Unstarving Musician Podcast. He shares his journey as a musician and provides advice for other musicians. He talks about the different ways that you can make money as a musician in today's world and gives some great advice on how to get started. He also shares his own experiences with gigging and offers some great tips for aspiring musicians.
Oh, what's up gigging pros. I am so excited today for our episode of The Gigging Musician Podcast, we have someone coming all the way from Panama. I would like to introduce Robonzo. Robonzo, is a drummer guitarist and singer based in Panama. He is currently the host of the unstopping, musician, podcast and author of The Unstarving Musicians Guide to Getting Paid Gigs. Subtitled How to Get Booked and Paid What You're Worth, Over and Over Again, Robonzo. I'm so excited to have you here. Thanks for being here. Thanks, man. I'm excited to be here. I really appreciate it. For sure. And I love the title of your book because you're on the Gigging Musician Podcast. We love when our artists get paid what they're worth over and over again. So I feel like our minds are melding right now. Totally, totally. So tell us about yourself as a musician. What do you what do you do right now and then I'll ask about your background after that. Well, I almost want to start with my background, but I will tell you what I do now. So um, like, for the past couple of years, I've been, you know, finally set up a recording studio at home really just bought some gear, there's nothing fancy I can record anywhere but bought the gear to record full acoustic drums, which it lends itself to doing vocals, or pretty much anything else I want to do because I have eight or more channels for drums. And I do occasional gigs where we are we live in a somewhat rural area in a beach community in Panama. So the music scene is vibrant, but small and southern gigs are a little far and few between compared to what I was used to prior. I lived 17 years in the San Francisco Bay Area in San Jose actually. And then before that, a number of years really grew up in Dallas Fort Worth and that's sort of where I started gigging. So those markets are both pretty big as you can imagine. So a little little less gigging. But The Unstarving Musician has kept me super busy learning from other musicians and trying to share things like you do on your podcast. Awesome. Well, I'm happy to hear that you are finding some gigs, even in a, you know, less busy spot than what you're used to. So let's dive into your background. I mean, you're a multi instrumentalist, like me, and I love talking to mostly multi instrumentalist and learning. Where did you start? And how did you start picking up more than one instrument? Well, you know, we were pre pre record here, we were kind of going over the the way you wanted to introduce me, I'm like, Yeah, that looks cool. And as you were doing it, I'm like, I probably should have mentioned, I'm a super young guitar player. So to just back up to where I started, I started playing drums when I was about 13 years old. And if anybody sees this video, or seeing pictures of me, they can see him kind of gray these days. So a number of years have gone by, but I was self taught, I have a little bit of formal education. Along the way, when I was still a teenager, I bought a 12 string Takanini guitar, which I had forever. But I didn't really other than maybe the first two or three years I had it, I never really dove into the instrument. And then after that, I hardly touched it at all. But probably about three years ago, since we've been in Panama. Anyway, during that time, I regained interest in picking up the guitar because I thought I had been playing so long. And I've never written any music on my own. And I'm not going to do it on a drum set. So I picked the guitar back up and with the help of some friends. And actually, the guitar in the background that you mentioned earlier was given to me by a friend that lives here in Panama, he moved to another part of the country, but left me that that nice little guitar. And so I've been using it I wrote my first cut, I wrote my first single with that one, and then collaborated with another guy on the second one. But most of all, I'm a drummer. And I've been singing that entire time. And I would say probably more in the last like 10 years, I started trying to be more serious about my singing. And then I guess if if I want to pretend to be really multi instrument Mentalist, I do play hand drums as well. Oh, awesome. That's so cool. So So 13 years old is when you decided to be a drummer. Was there a reason why you gravitated towards drums? You know, this came up just in the last couple of days. I'm in this marketing program for musicians. And one of the things I was going through this week is kind of developing this, they called pillars of content, right? And there were a couple things on there that were had to think about for a while. And one of them was like, you know, why do you make music and you know, why did you gravitate towards your instrument? Now usually just say, I saw the Rolling Stones on TV when I was a kid, which is true. And I was like, Oh, wow, I want to do that. But then I heard a couple of records also, including a couple of theirs. And I heard the song Moby Dick on Led Zeppelin second album, which is of course the famous drum solo by John Bonzo. Bottom. And, and yeah, I just I think, go ahead. Oh, we're having some audio issues right now. I'll cut out the audio issues, but I think we kind of got when you were mentioning Led Zeppelin. Yeah, sure. So I also heard the track Moby Dick on Led Zeppelin, the second album, which, of course, is the famous drum solo by John Bonham. And that I guess really got me gravitating towards drums. Because when I first saw the stones on TV, I thought, oh, I want to play guitar, I want a thing, you know. And, but, you know, funny enough, when I was a kid, and I was listening to records, I could hear the drum parts. And I've heard other musicians talk about this. And so drums were just an easy, natural thing. And then my sister in law gave me a snare drum. And then my mom gave me a drum kit, it was all over then. Oh, that's awesome. So your family supported your drumming, unlike my family, which, you know, most people don't realize I actually tried to start on drums. But my parents said, you have to pick a quote unquote, musical instrument. So that's, that's, that's why I started violin, but I got to play drums in the end. Good for you. Good for you. Yeah, there was some I actually, you know, my, my parents really did not me want did not want me to go into music professionally. And they did a pretty good job of deterring me. But they were super supportive in that, you know, my mom gave me a drum set. The bands were always practicing at our house. And then, you know, when I got my own place, that sort of that trend sort of continued, but yeah, my my friend, some a couple of whom went on to have big careers in music kind of still once in a while laugh about coming over to my mom's and people coming by to see that in the garage. Yeah, that's awesome. You mentioned bands coming over to play. So when did you join or start your first band? That's funny, I was doing it in the garage for a really long time. And for what ever reason, you know, the, the thing I'd been working on, which was kind of just this party band that really wasn't making any money was, I guess it kind of fizzled out. And there were these two guys in this is in Arlington, Texas who were younger than me, who had already been playing in clubs and making money, their prior band had fizzled out. And they invited me to play drums, they'd seen me play in my garage and invited me to play drums with him in a new band they were putting together. So from that moment forward, I started playing paid gigs, and in clubs and bars and occasional private events. Wow, that's awesome. So they heard you in your garage and decided, hey, we want you to come play for our band. Yeah, well, you know, I always had a host of really good young players open. And I feel like it's been my life story, I've always had the good fortune of being surrounded by really good players who sort of make it easy for me as much as I try to make it easy for them. So yeah, that's that's how it worked out, though. They heard me in the garage and gave me an opportunity. That's awesome. And you mentioned it, it really is so important, the quality of musician that you hang out with. So if you're hanging out with good musicians, things will come out of that. Yeah, for sure. I'm, I talk about that, in my book. And one of the things I've really learned to appreciate about other musicians, I mean, there's many things you want good players, and most of us think about that. First and foremost, I guess I want to be around good players. And we all do, there's a certain type of good player that I've learned to appreciate. And that's the one who is constantly supporting everyone else, and just has, you know, sort of this calm, giving demeanor, even though they may be the best one in the band. And there's a couple of guys that struggle from time to time, which might be me on occasion. They're always really just so supportive. But the other thing, the thing I really appreciated a lot over the years are musicians who understand that to make a band go, there's marketing involved, and the more people that are involved in that effort, the easier it is for the whole outfit. Oh, for sure. Like if you treat it like a business, then you'll be busier with gigs. Yeah, that's awesome. So were you ever the guy who was the guy in charge of all the marketing and everything for a band. I mean, maybe at moments, I always, I've always had a marketing mind where it's probably those two guys, I mentioned that that hired me, I saw that this was back in the days and I love talking to other people about this, or we're going down to the Kinkos or whatever. And, you know, printing flyers and taking them and stapling them all over walls and things and actually mailing these things out with a stamp on everything. But things and you know, things evolved, but those guys really taught me about the effort that goes into getting gigs and it wasn't just them. I had some peers in the area too. And I immediately started noticing what they did. So it's just always something I've been active in and I I always made a point of asking bandmates to be involved in that with me so while I may be the one that's thinking of it first and foremost, it's always been a really pleasant team effort. Now is a you know the perspective that I wrote my book on those at it as as a gigging drummer who was doing gigs and multiple bands and subbing so that sort of becomes a one man show in a way but still, at the same time, I was leveraging marketing efforts of these other bands that were doing their thing for themselves, but it helped me indirectly. Yeah, that's awesome. If you're okay with it, I'd love to kind of ask you a little bit about the world of subbing because I know there are many musicians who listen to both of our podcasts, some of whom have their own bands, but some of whom play for multiple bands or want to play for other bands, but haven't started that yet. So what's your kind of perspective on the subbing landscape? Well, you know, at, at its base, the most important thing, right is just to be a nice person, to everyone that you get an opportunity to work with is one of my good friends has a funny saying and hope it's okay to say on the recording, but he just said, just don't be a dick. You know, be a nice person help out be supportive. But, you know, the other I would say, Of equal importance is just letting people know that you are available and interested. And that means you're going out and seeing other bands or talking to other musicians and just making it widely known. When I first started doing it. I was probably still posting ads. I don't know if you remember Craigslist, but you know, an online classifieds. Yeah, it still exists. Okay, well, yeah, I haven't used it as a musician, and so long. And maybe that's just because, you know, over time we develop such a network, we don't have to do that anymore. But right, I would put ads out on there, or just go to these, like, I'm in California, and I guess elsewhere are these open blues jams, where you've got a bunch of high caliber players that are basically it's like an open mic for blues players, go meet people like that, and let them know. And of course, if you're working at your craft, as you know, and you're playing the best you can, and you're trying to look the best you can, that doesn't hurt at all, people are going to ask if you're available, and that's how it all starts. That's awesome. It sounds like even as a sub there's a lot of self marketing you have to do by going to open jams and letting people know that you exist. Yeah, totally. I think so. And I mean, I used to run my own separate email list, you know, and actually, I have for years, like, my usually had the subject to see me hear me and it'll be you know, who I'm playing with next, and where, so I may be super embedded in one band, that's sort of a regular thing. But I still what's my email subscribers, you know, the band would have a list, and then my email subscribers would get stuff for me, so that if I was playing with them, or any other band, I would try to always promote where I was going to be. And the lovely thing about subbing is, if you if you're versatile, and you're playing different types of venues and genres, things that the public can come see different people will come see you and find you at different places. And many times you get to use other people, audience, other people's audiences, you know, they'll, they'll be like, Wow, where are you? Do you play anywhere else? With like, come see us sometime? Oh, that's awesome. Could you talk a little bit about your email list? Because I don't think many musicians have one? Or if they do, they don't know how to use it. Yeah, you know, it's something I'm very passionate about. Because there are a lot of musicians who don't mess with it. Social media makes it easy to, you know, not think about and I don't know, a lot of people, I guess just don't realize that email still works. And maybe because they don't really like getting into their own email. But, you know, it's been this way forever. But your email list is just about the only thing that you own when it comes to your audience. All those people that follow you on Facebook, and Instagram, and whatever other social network your own, you don't own those people, they could go away with an algorithm change fairly quickly, or just diminish fairly quickly. But you'll always have your email list. And, you know, one of the things I learned because of the podcast, which I think is really cool for musicians, like you and I is that there's a real power in marketing, house concerts, merch, and behind the scenes stuff, when you have people on your email list, and you can, you can take them anywhere with the you can take them to your face, private Facebook groups or your Patreon page. But no matter what, what else happens with those things, you'll still be able to communicate with them by email, and I just, I can't even say how important it is. And it's musicians today, probably I haven't said this before, but if they treated their email list, like they do their Venmo or their PayPal, you know, it's the same thing. You just have to mention it and you can make it just as easy for people to sign up by you know, even giving them your phone or your tablet or have in your at your merch table and letting them sign up right then and there. Yeah, that's amazing. And when you said treat it like your Venmo or PayPal to another thing came to mind, which I'm, personally I'm working on my email list strategy, too. It's a relatively new thing for me, but one of the biggest pieces of advice that I heard is treat your email list, kind of like a bank account. Not in that you mentioned it like here's my Venmo handle, but in the fact that you can't always make withdrawals from your bank account if you haven't deposited value into it first. Which means like, if you're using your email list, just to try to like hey, buy my next thing without giving anything first. You know, you'll lose a lot of subscribers. Does that kind of resonate with you too? Yeah, totally. An email has been such an evolving thing for me because for most of my musical endeavors, I've been just a gigging drummer. And so it was all about, like, letting people know where I was going to play next, and I was never selling anything other than come, you know, come see us play, right. But now that I've, you know, dipped my toes into the waters of making music, and through the podcasts and sort of learning from others. Yeah, there are great opportunities to let them know about your latest song release, or some piece of merch that you have. But yeah, giving them you know, some free things. Like, you know, one of the things that I've very more recently started doing is letting people being very upfront about my email list and how important it is to support me as an artist on Twitter. And letting people know, when we get into sort of private conversations about music and, and find that they're interested in my music, I always let them know that, hey, if you want to sort of follow what I'm doing next, and, and also, by the way, I'll send you some free, you know, songs and other digital stuff, you can sign up for my email community here. And yeah, just start by giving them something including the the inside access to the your weird world, as I always like to say, That's awesome. And it sounds like you're pretty brilliant about this, but always offering them something else, like another way to interact with you. It's not just like, you send them one email, that's a dead end, you always say, if you liked what you saw on this email, check me out at this bar that I'm playing next week, or here's my free album, something like that. Yeah, for sure. I mean, mine has been a, that that's been a more recent journey for me. So yeah, I'm trying to give them things always. And I'm not gigging as an original artist these days. So and I have two singles out, right. And this was earlier in the year. So I did a, I called it a retrospective of the first single where I went backwards to the earliest demos. So they could sort of hear it all the way to where I recorded the first bit on my iPhone, you know, struggling through the guitar parts that I've written. And I just came up with my first piece of merch that they're interested they could buy. So all leading up to all that though, I was given trying to give them things, you know, lyric, original lyric sheets, and also just sort of sharing what's going on up in here and sharing things that I hope that they'll find entertaining, helpful, useful in some way. Yeah, that's awesome. So I'm not an original musician. I'm super curious about your process to become a songwriter. How did that happen? You know, I've always wanted to, I thought many years ago, when I was threatening to, you know, get the gear to, for a home studio home recording, I thought I'm going to, I'm going to get all the original artists or some of the original artists I've recorded with in the past and do a record with them on which I'll play drums and maybe sing, you know, a couple other things, if they'll give me that opportunity. But then, like I said, two or three years ago, I thought I really need to pick the guitar back up. And, you know, you listen to enough music in your life and you find certain inspirations, and I know you're probably quite accomplished on on violin and whatever else you play. So, you know, if you just make a habit of noodling around, and not being afraid to use pieces of things that inspire you, you'll eventually come up with something that just no matter how hard you try, it's going to sound like you. The other thing I know people struggle with is writing lyrics. So if you're wanting to write, you know, music, with lyrics in them, that's just something that you've got to practice all the time, sort of like your instrument, and just, quite honestly, you know, one thing I did, which was great, and I don't know that I'll do it forever. But I went some writing workshops that for fiction writers, and I was always thinking songs. And I actually came up with my first two singles, I came up with themes for those from that writing workshop, but but I've learned so much in there just about trying to, you know, if I want to write there, these things I need to do and things I can do to help myself to come up with ideas. That's awesome. And I love about when you're writing lyrics or trying to come up with themes. I love that you went to a nun or a fiction workshop that wasn't necessarily related to writing songs, but you got your inspiration from a group of writers, and just find finding ways to like connect the dots between music and other disciplines, and how can they help you improve your musicianship? That's like, genius. Thanks. I mean, the workshop is I met. I mean, I've always been a bit of a writer. I've written everything from blogging to having done a couple of articles for forbes.com. And, and you know, the book and you know, I was an English major, so there was always that. So I met and an author, who was also a school teacher, who also does these writing workshops, who also has this beautiful little room treat at her home nearby and a town called Coronado. And when she told me about the idea just sounded really fun. And it was and it has been a habit. When the pandemic started, I really stopped going. But I went, they did a little farewell thing for me and another gal because I'm my wife and I are moving to Mexico in February, if all goes as planned, but so I went back for the first time in a while, and it was really fun. And I got to sit with some writers who have developed since quite a bit since the first time I saw them, or heard them read some of their stuff. Very cool. So you wrote a bunch of songs, obviously, before trying to get your first gig as an original artist. At what point did you feel comfortable reaching out to a venue and trying to get that first gig as you the original musician? Well, now I'm sorry if I if I painted that picture, so I haven't gigged as an original artist. I actually just only last week, I had an opportunity to opportunity to play one of my songs at a live venue and it was actually at a cover gig but the gal who was lead singing the whole thing she urged me to, you know, have us do the song and the guys were great about it. We did it. So yeah, I have all but two singles at the moment. So for me to gig, I have thought about doing some house shows with someone, a guitar player, and maybe a bass player and doing like a sort of a combo thing where we do some Original Music by that artist. And hopefully, I'll have another song or two by then and do something of my own there. That would be fun. To me, I feel like I need to have at least you know 1012 songs to go do my own gig, but I suppose I would. I would honestly go for house concerts first cuz I really like the whole kind of theater like setting everybody's there just to see the music. But yeah, otherwise I would market to original venues, more or less like I have anything else. I think that yeah, yeah, for sure. And what are kind of like, what's the vibe of your music? How would you kind of pitch this to a venue? I had to think about this pretty hard the other day, because this whole Instagram exercise, or this content pillars exercise I was telling you about which was for Instagram, but the advice was to think about keywords that you can use in your name and your bio that describe what you do. And you know, you can't be verbose in these little you know, what's your Instagram name, not the handle, but the name, you only have a limited number of characters. So I put, you know, Rubondo rock musician. So at my core, I really love rock. But between you and me, I would say I you know, with a couple things I've done they've been heavily influenced by my influences, and rock blues and pop and the second one was really sort of a homage to, to prog rock. So I hope that I hope to do some other things though I'm, I've been thinking about collaborating with someone who plays really good blues. And then because of this content pillars and Instagram thing, I thought maybe that's not a good idea, because I don't want to confuse people about what I do. But one thing I for sure want to do is something along the lines of a ballad, but but everything I do is pretty guitar, drums, bass and vocals driven. Awesome. Well, I'd love to listen to it. And I have listened to a couple of your songs and they're great. Thank you. So we're coming to it kind of close to the end here. But what are some rapid fire pieces of advice that you would give to the listeners of the Gigging Musician Podcast? Well, I would say to be a subscriber to the Gigging Musician Podcast, I would say check out the Unstarving Musician Podcast as well to hear what other musicians have to say. And that one's an interview format. And we try to cover a lot of this type of ground. And it's fun to hear it from the other other musicians perspective, but I think the one thing I'm really learning is that is so important is there are a lot of ways to make money in this strange new world of music for independent musicians. And there is help out there. So these podcasts are a great, you know, platform to start, you know, finding out about some of the places that you can get help, I know that your started have kind of started helping musicians in some of these areas as well. And you know, from listening to my podcasts that I do the same. So yeah, just be open. There are tons of possibilities that I know from personal experience a lot of musicians don't even know about. Yeah, that's awesome. So be open to it and try a lot of things. And then when you find one that resonates with you dive deep into it. Yeah, yeah, that's the key. That's awesome, Robonzo. Well, we're coming to the end of the episode so how can our listeners connect with you further? Well, I would say go to UnstarvingMusician.com all of my social so there you can even find by eventually find my personal artist page, but you can find out about the podcast there and if you are interested in learning what I'm learning from other artists and hearing about new episodes and getting a free copy of a free pdf version of the Unstartving Musicians Guide To Getting Paid Gigs. Right on UnstarvingMusician.com You can just join the community by signing up, but with email. Awesome. Well, that's amazing. Thank you so much for all of your answers and connecting with me. It's just really been great to hear your perspective and hearing about the landscape in Panama too. So, to all of our listeners out there, thanks so much for joining us on The Gigging Musician Podcast and always remember, you are just one gig away.